Theoren Fleury is ready to take the next step towards a complete comeback to the National Hockey League Thursday night.
A fan favourite in Calgary for 11 seasons, Fleury is set to play a preseason game for the Flames against the New York Islanders, and it will be his first NHL game in six seasons.
"It will be a special evening," said Fleury following Wednesday's on-ice session. "I don't know at this point how I'm going to react to the situation, how I'm going to react to the crowd, but it's going to be emotional."
The diminutive helped the Flames capture the Stanley Cup in his rookie season. He scored 455 goals and added 633 assists in over 1,000 career games with Calgary, the Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks between 1988 and 2003.
Following the 2002-03 season in Chicago, Fleury was suspended indefinitely for violating the NHL's substance abuse policy.
Battling alcoholism through his career, the 41-year-old says that he is now sober and asked for reinstatement into the league. It was granted by the NHL and NHL Players' Association before Fleury received the invite to Flames' training camp.
"I had a nice conversation with my wife last night and we're just trying to continue to take this one day at a time." said Fleury. "I'm trying to stay as calm as possible. It's not easy - it's been a crazy week. Last week I was in Phoenix hoping to get here, and here I am a week later getting to play in a game.
"I've worked really hard to get to this point and I look at Thursday night as a real big point in my training camp process. We'll see what I can do now."
"I've always admired Daymond Langkow from afar; I think he's an outstanding hockey player who's gritty and doesn't say much but shows up every night," said Fleury. "He plays hard and that's going to be great for me. He has a calming influence about him and he doesn't get too over-excited; he just goes out and does his job.
"And Nigel's a quick guy. Hopefully I can get him the puck in the right position with some speed through the neutral zone. From all indications, I think it's a good line and hopefully we can develop some chemistry early and have a great game."
The 5'6", 182 lbs. Fleury didn't shy away when asked about the physical demands of the game.
"I would love to get hit, it'd be great. If the Islander guys are listening to this; go ahead," Fleury said with a smile. "I need to know where I am physically; I always found that it was really important for me at any time during the game to get into the game as early as I can. Whether that's me being physical or someone being physical against me; that was always an important part of my game. I don't expect anything to change other than the fact that I'll be in a lot more control of my emotions than I ever have in the past.
"I think the biggest thing is I just want to fit in here. I don't want to be a sideshow, I just want to be looked at as a really good hockey player who's trying to get back into the game and become a part of this team."
Thursday's game will mark Fleury's first time suiting up in a Flames jersey since 1999. He will likely receive a huge welcome from fans but his focus will remain at the task at hand.
"At this point, I'm just happy where I'm at today and we'll just try and get better," said Fleury. "That's all I can do. I can't come up with any crazy scenarios about what's going to happen. If something's supposed to happen, than it's supposed to happen and I'm not in control of that anymore. Once I gave up control of that, my life completely changed and I've become a different person then I was."